- Ronald Ford
Salem Civic Center - Salem Mayhem
Photos by Ronald Ford, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Salem Civic Center
1001 Roanoke Blvd.
Salem, VA 24153
Year Opened: 1967
Box Lax Salem Style
The Professional Box Lacrosse Association brought its brand of indoor lacrosse to several new cities in 2022, including Salem, Virginia. While being the sister city of Roanoke, Salem has a rich sports history of its own, being home of the Salem Red Sox in one form or another since 1955. The Salem Civic Center has also seen its share of sports history hosting several minor league hockey teams throughout the 70s and 80s. Most famously it hosted the journeymen Virginia Squires and Julius Irving during his stint in the ABA.
The PBLA has burst onto the professional sports scene promising a combination of fast-paced non-stop action, crowd interaction, and sports development, specifically in the United States. The Salem Civic Center seems to have had its sports heyday staring back at them from the rearview mirror and has not hosted a professional sports team since the 80s. Can this combination of new and old provide the roadmap to franchise success? Time will tell, as Stadium Journey visited game one of seven in this inaugural season. That being said, there were some hiccups.
Food & Beverage 2
Here's the rundown; Lukewarm chicken nuggets and soggy french fries for $6, the same fries ($3 on their own) covered in convenience store chili and cheese for $5, corn dog $3, hot dog $3, convenience store nachos $3, a dollar more if you want chili. A fairly large popcorn is $5, large Pepsi products are $4, the medium is $3, and bottled water and Gatorade are $3. Candy is $2 as long as you like Airheads. Otherwise, there is no candy.
There is a selection of adult beverages strictly in cans for the flat price of $8. Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Vienna Lager, White Claw, and Admit One Pilsner. There were whispers of an elusive beer garden but otherwise, there was nothing beyond the one concession stand for our section.
As the game time arrived for the premier of the Mayhem, the overhead lights were extinguished for what should have been the opening ceremonies. However, someone forgot the spotlight. So while there were some introductions for several people who are instrumental to the history of lacrosse in this area, as well the team introductions and even the National Anthem took place in almost complete darkness.
Once the game started the music director tried to mix the music with the flow of the game, but it took nearly half the game for them to get the flow of attacking and defending set lists (those familiar with box lacrosse know that music is generally played throughout the game and a talented DJ can even be considered a home field advantage). Also, the Mayhem goal song sounds like a squirrel stuck in a blender while Limp Bizkit has a stroke (don’t believe me? Can I Get a Hoya. You're welcome). Luckily, the Mayhem lost, so we were limited to the number of times we were subjected to said ditty. It was sincerely fun to watch the PA announcer enjoy themselves throughout the game.
There were also T-shirt tosses every quarter, which is nice as the souvenir stand offered nothing cheaper than $15 (ladies' T-Shirt), and most designs are reminiscent of items they have on their website.
The area around Salem Civic Center is a calm, quiet suburban neighborhood. There are several parks in the area, and there are plenty of places to stroll and relax on a nice day. It’s also nice to check out the state-of-the-art baseball stadium next door. Downtown Salem boasts the campus of Roanoke College, which features classic architecture and an almost Ivy League atmosphere.
The civic center is a short drive from downtown Salem, which has plenty of pre-game food and drink. Mac & Bobs, Allsports Cafe, and Macados among many others are less than 2 miles away in the Main street area. There are several hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area for folks staying overnight. Downtown Roanoke is a 15-minute drive for anyone looking for even more to do.
This is where the PBLA has hit the nail on the head. Salem is the center of a region rich in lacrosse tradition, fans, and possibilities. Between the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Roanoke College, and many college programs with national championships, this area is flush with youth lacrosse organizations. And while the transition from outdoor to indoor lacrosse may be a bit jarring, it is not so much that they should lose many fans on the transition.
If opening night attendance is any indication, the PBLA appear to have found their stride right out of the box. While several sections of the arena were cordoned off, the areas that weren’t were packed with families, and fans. Many of the attendees were sporting jerseys and paraphernalia from local lacrosse teams, as well as some NLL and even some old MILL logos in the crowd. While the new rules garnered some murmurs among the crowd, this speaks to their collective knowledge.
The Salem Civic Center is easily accessed from both I-81 north and south, as well as 220 and 460 coming in from the east. Roanoke Regional Airport is also a short 15-minute drive for those planning a more hasty exit from the city. However, with the region's railway history in mind, maybe consider an Amtrak into and out of town via the Roanoke rail station.
The Salem Civic Center can be accessed via the Yellow Line route 92. The Valley Metro has a useful app that makes finding a schedule simple and quick. Parking at the Salem Civic Center is plentiful and free. This also makes accessing the facility via UBER or LYFT easier, as they don’t have to navigate parking queues.
Every problem that arose during the Mayhem debut comes down to the arena setup. The good news is a lot of this can be fixed, even in time for the next game. One thing they do properly is advertised their bag policy, which restricts patrons to clear bags and small clutches plainly and in many places before approaching any queue. Their lobby is spacious if dimly lit and seems to be the perfect place to set up security and ticket scanning, having the will-call windows just inside the door. However, the only thing in the lobby was the souvenir table.
Tickets show each seat is assigned a particular gate, you proceed through the lobby to your assigned gate and there your ticket is scanned. However, you are instantly cut off from the other sections of the stadium, including the souvenir table or any other concession stands or amenities that may be available throughout the rest of the facility. Yes, there surely must be a hand stamp pass-back solution to this, however, anyone who has had to repurchase a ticket due to a mix-up, misunderstanding, or phone dying is loath to entrust this and satisfied to stew in our assigned sections.
The seating section is steep without handrails. This is a warning to those with bad knees or vertigo, but also a distinction for those who have spent games staring at the back of someone's head due to a shallow seating setup. Speaking of knees, if you are over 5’10, avoid the front row as there is a handrail here that is poorly conceived. Several of the seating sections are covered, and more than a few seats are damaged, again showing the arena’s age.
Return on Investment 3
There is some concern as the price range of tickets is $15 to $25; however, they seem to have found their niche. It is worth noting that Salem had a fairly packed house on the same night the crosstown Rail Yard Dawgs were defending its newly acquired first-place status in an SPHL contest. The product on the field was as advertised. Those who are familiar with the NLL and MLL would not find what was presented tonight out of character or even a lesser product. Be sure to purchase your tickets at the box office, as Ticketmaster's fees for these events seem seriously overreaching.
The PBLA promise to develop talent was on full display as there were several youth lacrosse organizations on hand as well as an exhibition at halftime of youth lacrosse that as always is almost as entertaining as the paid players.
There was a local radio station on hand at the start of the game with some carnival games out front to get folks excited. And the uniforms on both of these teams are classy and on point, especially the helmets, one can only hope they eventually sell these.
I was disappointed by the lack of pre-game and post-game tailgating that seemed to be part of the PBLA sales pitch, but it’s early in the year. There is plenty of time to grow.